Les Dirouilles – strange rocks

A few members of the Jersey Canoe Club have been visiting Les Dirouilles more frequently over the last few years. Partly because of the popularity of the Ecrehous and subsequent overcrowding and partly because it is an easier paddle. One thing, which has provided interest over the last few weeks is something we have referred to as Les Dirouilles Strange Rocks.

Furthest east
This is the rock which is the furthest east. The rope is from a line of lobster pots which had been exposed due to the very low tide.

The main rock at the Les Dirouilles and the Ecrehous seems to be a form of gneiss. Reddish in colour with a range of crystals of different sizes. Our interest was first raised when we noticed a rock of a much darker colour, which looked as if it could have been quarried. We returned last week to look for other rocks, which are much darker and easily indentifiable as not from the immediate area. I hadn’t heard of any mention of these rocks from other people or in the limited literature available. This was possibly because landing in this area would be difficult from most types of boats.

Les Dirouilles probably marked the western end of a headland stretching from the Cotentin Peninsula, on the French mainland. It was part of a much larger landmass, including the Ecrehous. This would have been in existence until about 5,000 BC, when sea level change broke the reefs up into smaller entities.

On the Ecrehous there have been a number of archaeological finds which indicate that there was human activity. Pieces of pottery, animal bones from domesticated animals such as sheep and pigs, a menhir etc. The present areas of the Ecrehous is significantly larger than Les Dirouilles. The reef is also higher above sea level so the evidence of Neolithic man is better preserved. If there were people on the area, which is now the Ecrehous it is likely that they were also in the area occupied by Les Dirouilles. It is just that the evidence hasn’t survived.

Standing in line at Les Dirouilles
Jim and Eric standing on two of the rocks. These were part of the line of 7.

So what were these strange stones? The first time it had registered as something different we only saw one. Last Friday though we visited the reef with intention of seeing if there were any more. In total we found 12. There were 7 in a line running 138 to 318 degrees, stretching about 40 metres. Next time we must take a tape measure to make sure! There were 4 stones running from 25 to 205 degrees covering a distance of about 15 metres. They crossed the other line of stones, virtually at right angles, towards the western end of the section.

This rock was harder to identify as there was a reasonable amount of sea weed growing on it but as can be seen one face of the rock was still mainly free of sea weed.

That accounts for 11 of the 12 stones we identified, the other one was slightly to one side of one of the others. Perhaps it had been moved by the sea. The location of the stones was slightly to the east of one of the largest rocks in the reef. This probably offers significant protection from the largest waves, which would approach from a westerly direction. In addition the fact that they are only exposed at low water springs means that when the largest waves are breaking in this area they are probably under 7 or 8 metres of water.

Les Dirouilles.  Strange Rocks
Preparing to depart the reef, the strange rocks we had come to visit are to the right of the main rock.

So what are these stones and why are they there? The short answer is that we have no idea but they are in a location which has possibly seen human activity but is now under water most of the time. It is also a place which sees very little modern day human activity. Therefore it is likely that very few people will have had the opportunity to see them and subsequently ponder their origins.
In no way do we claim to be archaeologists. We are just a few sea kayakers who have encountered something unusual. We can’t explain it and have been unable to find any further information. Any suggestions, ideas, comments etc will be greatly received.

Les Dirouilles
Nicky and Janet heading through one of the narrow channels to the west of the reef, as we prepared to start the crossing back to Jersey.

Les Dirouilles – Standing Stones?

Jersey has a rich and diverse archaeological history, with a number of important sites. Standing Stones, Dolmen’s etc are dotted around the Island, providing enjoyment and intrigue for local and visitors alike. A few weeks ago we visited Les Dirouilles, on a low water spring and noticed a rock, which appeared to be different to the bedrock. We took and picture and paddled back to Jersey before the reef was covered by the rising tide.

Les Dirouilles Standing Stones
This is the rock which attracted our attention several weeks ago. It is clearly different to the bedrock in the area, so how did it get here? The simple answer is that we had no idea

A couple of a days later we were on a guided walk to La Cotte de St Brelade, possibly one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Europe. I showed the picture of our rock to Dr Matt Pope, who is co-ordinating the excavations. As a active archaeologist he immediately asked further questions, rather than providing a simple answer. Unfortunately we were unable to provide the answers and would have to wait for the next suitable Spring Tide and weather window to further our careers as amateur kayaking archaeologists.

Last Friday it all came together, a large Spring Tide and a wind forecast of Beaufort force 1-2. The journey out to Les Dirouilles, by kayak is so much easier than the nearby and far more popular, Ecrehous. Paddling out to Les Ecrehous is always across the tide, so you have to identify the small tidal window, which will allow you to cross the swift tidal streams with the least amount of effort. In effect there is never any positive tidal assistance.

Les Dirouilles arrival
Alex approaching the rocks to the south of Les Dirouilles

Move a couple of miles to the west towards Les Dirouilles and suddenly the tidal streams are your friend. As we came around the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater our speed increased and with the tide underneath us we covered just over 5 nautical miles in an hour. We weren’t even paddling that fast, spending the whole of the crossing chatting with each other. It is best to aim to arrive about an hour before low water, otherwise the landing options are fairly limited. We were greeted by the resident Grey Seals, perhaps in common with us they are finding the Ecrehous too crowded and have left in search of quieter waters.

Alex, Janet and Jim entering the main body of the reef about 1 hour before low water, the tidal range was 10.3 metres, not the largest of the Spring tides but certainly enough to create significant movement.

A beautiful sandy beach is exposed, a perfect lunch spot and the starting point for our sea bed archaeology. The rock of our first visit was easily identified, so it was time to survey the scene. So with the questions posed by Matt Pope, ringing in my ears I stood on a prominent rock and looked for the answers. This was not isolated rock, in fact we were able to identify 12 individual rocks. Not being geologists the accuracy of our identification is open to question but to us it was clear that they were a completely different rock type.

Les Dirouilles beach
The low tide beach with rocks stretching into the distance. The complete lack of wind resulted in memorable conditions.

We spent some time photographing and measuring the angles of the rocks, which we referred to as Les Dirouilles – Standing Stones? Time wasn’t on our side though. We needed to make sure that we had our lunch! Always important on a sea kayaking day trip. Just after low water it was time to be on our way back to Jersey.

John adjusting his GPS, prior to the crossing back to St Catherine’s. It is always interesting when you see the reading on the GPS reach 8 or 9 knots.

After our last visit we pondered the origin of the name Les Dirouilles, referring to the go to location for people interested in such things “Jersey Place Names I” by Charles Stevens, Jean Arthur and Joan Stevens, which was published in 1986. They suggest “mischievous dwarfs” but added that the meaning is very uncertain. In fact there is a lot of uncertainty about this rarely visited reef.
We did leave with more questions than answers but some extra data and some interesting thoughts as to the origins of these unusual rocks on Les Dirouilles. These thoughts will be on the next post.

Les Dirouilles gully
Heading through the western end of the reef. This is a potential landing spot and a great swimming place.

Les Dirouilles

Several miles off the north east coast, a reef of rocks is gradually revealed as the tide drops. The are largely viewed from afar, their presence indicated by the breaking waves, unleashing their energy following their journey from the storms in the North Atlantic.  This is Les Dirouilles.
It is a reef which I rarely visited until the last few years. It used to be somewhere we passed as opposed to a final destination. In recent years though we have paddled there as a destination in its own right. What has been a revelation is just how easy it is to get.
More than any of the other offshore reefs which surround Jersey, a visit to Les Dirouilles benefits from the tidal streams.  The water runs almost directly from the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater onto the reef.  The crossing is about 4.5 nautical miles and on our speed rarely dropped below 5 knots.  There was a slight drift to the west, indicated on the GPS but it was pretty easy to compensate for, so we drifted gently onto the reef.
We probably arrived a bit too early, so we took advantage of our early arrival to explore some of the more detached rocks to the north of the reef.  Moving into areas I had never paddled in before. After early 50 years of kayaking in Jersey’s waters it is quite amazing to discover small new pockets of coast, waiting to be explored. This was quite a fortunate development as we discovered an absolutely stunning lunch spot.
We were able to land on sand, always so much kinder to the hulls of the kayaks, with lunch being eaten on a raised flat rock, which gave exceptional views of the area. The coastline of France clearly visible to the east and north east, with the nuclear plant at Cap de la Hague shimmering like a mirage on the horizon.
To the south we could see the whole of the north coast of Jersey, stretching from our departure point at St Catherine’s all the way to Grosnez, the north west corner of the Island. To the north west Sark, was the dominant landmark, the location of so much great sea kayaking.
One of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Jersey is the opportunity to visit some of the offshore reefs and from our lunch spot we were able to see 3 of the 4 main reefs. To the west the Paternosters, were visible becoming bigger as the tide dropped. To the east was the Ecrehous and surrounding us was Les Dirouilles, all we needed was the Minquiers for a full set of the reefs but they are to the south of Jersey and therefore invisible from our picnic spot.
After lunch we launched off the small sandy beach, which had been revealed by the ebbing tide. None of us had ever seen this beach before even though it was within 5 miles of where a couple of the paddlers lived.  We explored the southern edge of the reef before heading straight towards Tour de Rozel, the low water slack providing the opportunity for fairly rapid progress.  At the start of the ebb we turned towards St Catherine’s with a speed over the ground in places in excess of 7 knots.
A thoroughly enjoyable paddle for the last Wednesday in September.

Les Dirouilles
Heading towards the reef from St Catherine’s. We were pushed slightly to the east but overall the tidal stream was particularly beneficial

Les Dirouilles
This was a great place to sit for lunch on the last Wednesday in September. The views were exceptional.

Les Dirouilles
Looking back towards the north coast of Jersey. The small sandy beach is just being uncovered.

Les Dirouilles
The views along the north coast were quite amazing. Grosnez, the north west corner of the island is visible in the distance.

Les Dirouilles
Exploring some of the narrow inlets on the south side of the reef. On a previous visit we had landed here as it was a perfect place to swim.

Les Dirouilles
Crossing towards Jersey at low water slack before turning east and using the start of the flood tide to accelerate our journey back to St Catherine’s.


Les Dirouilles – a reef to the north of Jersey

To the north east of Jersey there are two reefs, Les Ecrehous and Les Dirouilles.  Without doubt the most popular area of this Ramsar site is Les Ecrehous but today our destination was Les Dirouilles.
It was a large Spring Tide and although the tidal streams were running with significant energy we were able to use some of the speed to our advantage.  It was at times like this that confidence in the GPS is important, monitoring our drift and fine tuning of our bearing ensured that we weren’t swept past the rocks.
Very little has been written about the reef but it is known that in 1816 40 people were drowned when a ship, La Balance, which was sailing from St Malo to Canada struck the reef.  It must have been in totally different conditions to those we experienced on the reef today.
The calm waters, fast moving streams and lack of any other people combined to produce a truly memorable day.
 Approaching Les Dirouilles.  When we left Jersey the tidal streams were running at over 4 knots, fortunately they were mainly in our favour.
 Pete is just visible threading his way through one of the numerous channels.
 Janet with a rather large smile, after a superb crossing from Jersey.
 Landing wasn’t straightforward but it was a great place to swim.
 A very sheltered pool!  There can’t be many days like this at Les Dirouilles.
 Looking north across the reef.  Next stop Alderney, about 30 miles away.

Although we were on the reef for only about an hour, the tide had dropped over a metre, and this wasn’t at the time of maximum change.  The tidal range today was 11 metres.
Time to hitch a ride on the flooding tide back to St Catherine’s.  At times our speed over the ground was over 7 knots.  The joy of a free ride!